I am interested in helping battered women. I was not directly impacted by this situation, but i was indirectly impacted. I have seen first hand what it’s like to want to get out of that kind of situation but can’t. I would like to let the women know that is is not their fault and they did nothing wrong. I would also like to tell them, that if the have children, they really need to get away from that kind of environment because it will have an impact on them! 3 years ago
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I have been volunteering at shelters for battered women and pregnant teenage girls on and off for over 20 years. I have never had any professional training as a counselor or applied it as a career goal. My efforts were most commonly simple tasks like grocery shopping, running errands, cooking meals, minor repairs, driving the shelter vans and things of that nature. I did not interact with a lot of the women I was helping, but over time there were some who’s stories I got to know. They were stories of such heartache and pain they were often difficult to digest. Unless we are in the thick of it, domestic violence isn’t something we talk about often. It’s like a dirty secret we are too embarrassed to bring up. I came to learn there is no demographic for a battered woman. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, cultural background, income level, age, education or physical appearance. All it took was brutality on the part of the men in their lives who had promised to cherish them, love them, keep them safe and secure. Instead they subjected these women to mental, emotional and physical abuse that left wounds so deep they took years to recover, if they recovered at all. I met and came to know many kind, caring, compassionate and gentle women who could not trust anyone. They had self-defense systems so ingrained that a single word or action could throw them into suspicion and fear. Many of the women had children who also grew up knowing only a poisoned kind of love, one stained with stress and dread.
At first I helped because my wife volunteered and it was a mission close to her heart. After we divorced I continued to help because I thought it was the right thing to do. I also thought I could help in some small way to restore these women’s hopes and make them feel a little safer.
Over the years the helping and the witnessing of the plight of these women took a toll on me. I felt used up and burned out. I had thrown myself pretty fully into volunteering at a certain shelter and when it closed it was like a part of me had been cut off. Various other setbacks left me feeling numbed and bereft. One day I just stopped helping. I picked up and moved around, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, back to Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Utah, Kentucky, and finally Georgia, where I made a home and began a career. I married and divorced and married again and had relationships in between. Everywhere I went I found an opportunity to help charitable organizations. And I did help several, but I always found myself drawn back to facilities that were offering assistance and shelter to battered women. I would get involved at varying degrees, but never to the level I once had. Invariably I would chicken out and withdraw before my sense of commitment became too deep.
In 2005 while I was living in Atlanta some people I knew developed a plan to rescue shelted and at risk women from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Because I was familiar with the area and had a few contacts I was invited to join in. Several women escaped their abusive husbands/boyfriends to start new lives far away. I managed to get one woman a job where I was working at the time, and she has shadowed me to every job I have worked since. She had no skills but was desperately fearful of going back to New Orleans, or to Texas where her boyfriend had moved. I had to train, cover-up, defend, lie for and aid her for years and I watched her grow in strength, skill and confidence for under the shadow of fear and doubt. Her life isn’t perfect, but who’s is? She is a solid and respected memeber of our team now, very reliable and competent. Her daughter will graduate high school this year, more than she accomplished in her own youth. Her daughter wants to continue on to college and learn to be a child therapist. She is a resounding success story. Someone who pulled themself up by the hands held out to them. I take her for granted, I think. I see her as so strong and capable now that it is hard to recall the depths from which she came.
Other stories have not had such happy endings. I have felt very drained by these experiences and often thought I was making no difference in the lives and choices of these women, or even making things worse. I felt like I was swinging a sword, trying to cut the wind. I wanted to help, I just didn’t seem to be able to help. I think I thought one day we would shelter the last battered woman in the world, and all this would end. Or we would wake up from this cultural nightmare and realize what a grievous sin we had commited upon the goddesses in our midst… our mothers, daughters, wives, lovers. But no one seemed to be waking up and the tragedies seemed to be more commonplace. I’ve considered stopping my involvement altogether. You know, just get on with my own life. I have a good job, a nice home, and a wife no one’s ever raised their hand to. There’s no one abusing my mother or sister or any immediate or close friends. I don’t have to care.
Thursday night I volunteered to work at a fundraiser for City of Refuge, a shelter and resource center for battered women and their children. The fundraiser was called “An Evening in Eden”. My role was simple. I had to bring food, cook food, put out food, talk nice to patrons as they ate food, and clean up. I did it through my company and didn’t know it was a shelter for abused women until a couple of days before the event. They had guest speakers and a video and about 350 people showed up. Between tides of hungry guests I got to look around at the numerous posters of the faces of women helped by this organization. There was a banner on one wall covered with affirmations such as hope, dream, ambition, renwal, love, determination, and the like. Standing there among the people picking up food and laughing and conversing I thought about scrubbing bloodstains out of the seats and floorboards of the passenger vans we used at the shelters to pick up women in danger. I felt very sad. But I also felt some resolve. Maybe there are ways I can help unique to my skills. Maybe I can help with events such as this, or do like I have been doing at a Stage 4 cancer hospice, where I go a couple of times a month and cook buffet meals for residents and their families. Maybe I can teach cooking classes for women who haven’t learned such skills to increase their sense of self-esteem and independence. Maybe I can’t counsel or advice or rescue or assist in certain ways, but I can help in others. Volunteering for the City of Refuge has helped me gain a certain focus, and reawakened in me a desire to be of service. I hope I can be of service, because I don’t think anyone is waking up from this nightmare and making it go away any time soon. 3 years ago